updated 4/29/2008 11:22:02 AM ET 2008-04-29T15:22:02

Guests: Michelle Bernard, Eugene Rivers, Lynn Sweet, Ed Schultz, Kevin James, Ed Schultz,

Kevin James, Jill Zuckman, Ryan Lizza, Jonathan Capehart, David Axelrod

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Can Barack Obama escape the Reverend Jeremiah Wright?  Get me from the church on time!

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL.  Tonight, the albatross.  Hillary Clinton has Bill Clinton and Barack Obama has the Reverend Jeremiah Wright.  Today, Reverend Wright came to Washington and addressed the National Press Club.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REV. JEREMIAH WRIGHT, FMR PASTOR, TRINITY UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST: 

And I said to Barack Obama last year, If you get elected, November the 5th, I‘m coming after you because you‘ll be representing a government whose policies grind under people.  All right?  It‘s about policy, not the American people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Is there anyone out there who thinks the Reverend Wright‘s public displays, including today‘s, are good for Barack Obama?  I don‘t think so.  Why would Wright, a man so devoted to the mission of African-American causes, risk damaging the campaign of Barack Obama?  The man‘s an albatross.

And here‘s another question.  Why doesn‘t Obama completely distance himself from Wright, not just from his comments but from the man himself?  We‘ll take a look at the Jeremiah Wright story from all angles tonight.  We‘ll also hear from Obama campaign chief strategist David Axelrod about Reverend Wright, John McCain, and about Hillary Clinton‘s statement that under certain circumstances, the United States might obliterate Iran.  What does it all mean, and how will this affect next week‘s primaries in North Carolina and Indiana?  We‘ll take a look at that in the “Politics Fix.”

Plus: Step right up, and welcome to what we‘re calling the HARDBALL “Sideshow,” all the strange and sometimes wacky things that happen in politics that don‘t quite make the front pages here or in the newspapers.  Among the “Sideshow” stories tonight is this one, Bush directing the band.  No lyrics necessary for that display.  That‘s the president conducting the U.S. Marine Band Saturday night in Washington.  Much more on that and other fun stuff later in the HARDBALL “Sideshow.”

But first, Eugene Rivers is a reverend at Azusa Christian Community Church up in Boston, Michelle Bernard is an MSNBC contributor, and Lynn Sweet writes for “The Chicago Sun-Times,” often about Barack Obama.

Let‘s take a look at something of Reverend Wright‘s commentary today before the National Plus Club.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WRIGHT:  On November the 5th and on January 21, I‘ll still be a pastor.  As I said, this is not an attack on Jeremiah Wright.  It has nothing to do with Senator Obama.  This is an attack on the black church, launched by people who know nothing about the African-American religious tradition.  And why am I speaking out now?  In our community, we have something called playing the dozens.  If you think I‘m going to let you talk about my mama...

(LAUGHTER)

WRIGHT:  ... and her religious tradition and my daddy and his religious tradition and my grandma, you got another think coming!

(LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Reverend Rivers, how do you account for this performance today?  This man has walked into the center ring of American political life in the midst of a very hotly contested Democratic fight for the nomination, I believe to the detriment of a man he calls a friend.

REV. EUGENE RIVERS, AZUSA CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY CHURCH:  First, let me say Jeremiah Wright, pastor, a good man who means well, 40 years of ministry, but his public performance in the last 24 hours has had the unintended consequence of throwing Senator Obama‘s campaign under the bus.  Whereas on the one hand, Senator Obama tried to be loyal and faithful to his pastor and spiritual father, what has happened is that the behavior and the rhetoric of Pastor Wright has functionally—has functionally—thrown Senator Obama‘s campaign under the bus and become an albatross and a liability, demanding for its survival that Senator Obama dealing himself from Pastor Wright‘s rhetoric and realign with other religious voices in the black community who are more consistent voices of racial reconciliation and progress.

MATTHEWS:  You know, I get the feeling, looking at the Reverend Wright

and I‘ve been accused of having ego.  This guy has an ego like the sun.

MICHELLE BERNARD, INDEPENDENT WOMEN‘S VOICE, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: 

Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  He thinks the universe resolves around him.  In this election season, he says this is about the black church.

RIVERS:  No, it‘s not.

MATTHEWS:  What‘s it...

BERNARD:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Michelle for a second, Reverend.  Michelle, what do you make of his—you got to call it narcissistic performance today and last night, talking about ebonics and black and white pronunciations—we‘re all past that!  Everybody in America‘s got—I‘ve got a Philly accent.  Everybody‘s got an accent.  Nobody‘s fighting about that.  What‘s he opening up that for?  What a stupid argument~!

MICHELLE BERNARD, INDEPENDENT WOMEN‘S VOICE, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR:  His performance over the weekend has been utterly bizarre.  The speech at the NAACP, where he talks about African-Americans being different, having a different this and a different that...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

BERNARD:  ... he sounded like Charles Murray‘s...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

BERNARD:  ... Charles Murray, in his—you know, in his...

MATTHEWS:  “Bell Jar.”

BERNARD:  ... exactly—in “The Bell Curve,” which was...

MATTHEWS:  “Bell Curve.”

BERNARD:  ... you know, denounced by most people in this country as being utterly racist.  And I mean, I don‘t know what to say about it.  If anything good can come out of Reverend Wright‘s speeches over the last two days for the Obama campaign, the only thing that it could be is that it gives Senator Obama an opportunity to say to the American public, I loved this man as a father, but I didn‘t know he was a kook.  And he can denounce him, denounce what he has said, and completely disalign himself from Reverend Wright.

MATTHEWS:  Well, you‘re the political expert.  You‘ve been covering it for so long.  You have seen the ins and outs of this presidential candidate, Barack Obama.  What are the ins and outs of his relationship with the Reverend Jeremiah Wright?

LYNN SWEET, “CHICAGO SUN-TIMES”:  After he went to great lengths not to disown him in his big Philadelphia speech, this is the payback he gets.  So I think that...

RIVERS:  ... Senator Obama would just be mystified as to what good—you know, every good deed gets punished.  And this is a punishment to the campaign.

MATTHEWS:  This is the stations of the cross.  He‘s going to Detroit.  He‘s going to—he‘s here in Washington at the National Press Club.  He has sought every spotlight...

SWEET:  He did the PBS interview with Bill Moyers.

MATTHEWS:  With Bill—he is looking for every spotlight in which to denounce his friend, basically.

SWEET:  Well, the Obama campaign could have lived with the Moyers interview.  If he did that, that would have been enough, understandable.  He wanted to get some things off his chest.  That was it.  Over.  What more did he have to say that he had to do?  So that‘s one you get, but number two last night—CNN put that on three times.  I had to go to sleep because it was in the third replay.   I was curious if they would do four.

So Reverend Wright can no longer complain that he‘s out of context.  I think Obama does not have to—and this is the big picture here.  I don‘t think he really has to apologize for him anymore because it‘s clear that this is not a man who‘s under any control of anyone.

BERNARD:  Yes, I disagree.  I think that he absolutely has to separate himself from this man because what is happening now is that when Reverend Wright comes out and he says, for example, that Barack Obama does what he does because he‘s a politician, that‘s kind of like saying to the American public, you know, wink, wink, nod, nod, he‘s really with me.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... gets that people around me think what he‘s saying is wink, wink, He‘s my buddy.  He‘s just doing this for show.

RIVERS:  Absolutely.  No, no, no.

MATTHEWS:  He‘s really with me in the back room.

RIVERS:  No.  Absolutely.  What Jeremiah Wright is doing is functioning to sabotage Senator Obama‘s campaign and contradict the highest principles that Senator Obama has articulated.  And what‘s most difficult is that Pastor Wright has said, My public displays and performances are politically and morally more important than promoting a campaign to provide racial reconciliation for the society.

(CROSSTALK)

SWEET:  ... he could be a vice presidential candidate.

MATTHEWS:  What was that about?

BERNARD:  Yes.

SWEET:  Well, I think, right now, he puts himself on some kind of...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, we all have egos.  Let‘s take a look at this information here.  Before this weekend of hell—if you‘re an Obama person, it is a weekend of hell—people have told “Newsweek” that -- 2 out of 5 people, 41 percent, said this guy is hurting the candidate.  He‘s making them think less off—you can imagine what it‘s like after this weekend (INAUDIBLE)

Let‘s take a look at John McCain here because the vultures are, as they do—everybody‘s a vulture if the other guy‘s carrion here.  The vultures are circling.  And even the guy—even McCain, who‘s had a problem jumping on him, here he comes, talking about the Reverend Wright in Florida.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I saw yesterday some additional comments that have been revealed by Pastor Wright, one of them comparing the United States Marine Corps with Roman legionnaires who were responsible for the death of our savior, I mean—I mean, being involved in that.  It‘s beyond belief.  And then, of course, saying that al Qaeda and the American flag were the same flags.  So I can understand.  I can understand why people are upset about this.  I can understand why—that Americans, when viewing these kinds of comments, are angry and upset.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, then, of course, you have this...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Reverend—Reverend, let me just bring this up to you Reverend Rivers.  You know, 13 percent of the American people believe that Barack Obama is Muslim.  I don‘t know how that got started.  Hillary Clinton, of course, gave that cute answer to Steve Kroft on “60 Minutes”...

RIVERS:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  ... saying, As far as I know...

RIVERS:  Yes.  Right.

MATTHEWS:  ... he‘s not Islamic.

RIVERS:  Right.  Right.

MATTHEWS:  And you know—and Jon Stewart had that yuck-yuck during the Oscars, saying his middle name is Hussein.  But clearly, there‘s some people out there who‘ve allowed this to be perpetrated.

RIVERS:  Right.  Right.

MATTHEWS:  But then today, didn‘t—didn‘t the Fruit of Islam defend him, or today at the National Press Club?  Weren‘t they standing behind him?  And didn‘t he get security from Farrakhan today?  I mean, am I crazy?

(CROSSTALK)

RIVERS:  Are we talking about Jeremiah?

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

RIVERS:  Well, listen, look, look, see, there‘s a subtext to this that I don‘t want to get into today about the relationship rhetorically, Pastor Jeremiah and some of the old-school black nationalist rhetoric that you heard last night.

But I want to make a point that everyone needs to know nationally.  Jeremiah Wright speaks for himself.  He was not speaking on the authority of black churches, of which there are 65,000.  There are other voices in America, and one of the great and unfortunate developments out of this whole brouhaha is that much of the American public will be misled into believing that this is representative of the black churches.  And it is not!

SWEET:  But that‘s the point.  He said today that this isn‘t about him.  And Reverend Rivers, I‘m just following up on your point.  He‘s saying this is an attack on the black church.

BERNARD:  On the black church.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Once again, in the world of identity politics, if you don‘t vote for Hillary Clinton, you‘re against women.  If you don‘t vote for Barack Obama, you‘re against African-Americans.  If you don‘t like the message of Jeremiah Wright, his sermons, then you‘re against the black church.  Everybody in this election is playing identity politics.  Everybody is.

SWEET:  Look what‘s being injected in this crucial time for the Obama campaign, God and race, two of the biggest hot button subjects you can have on the table.

BERNARD:  Because they pull him back into the muck.  He has tried so hard to rise above race.  And if he‘s going to be the Democratic nominee, he absolutely has to do this.  And Senator Clinton pulls him into it, and Reverend Wright just won‘t let him go.  That‘s why I firmly believe he has to denounce Reverend Wright.

MATTHEWS:  And both the other candidates are benefiting from this, Reverend, because Hillary Clinton is running at 37 percent in trustworthiness right now.

SWEET:  Right.  Right.

MATTHEWS:  But she‘s not taking the heat, he is.

RIVERS:  Right.  That‘s right.

MATTHEWS:  John McCain, people disagree with most of his positions, but he‘s not taking the heat.  There‘s one guy under fire right now, and the reason he‘s under fire is because he can‘t separate himself from this friend of his, who will not leave the spotlight.  And you can say all you want, but the number one surrogate right now for Barack Obama is Jeremiah Wright.  And that‘s his problem.  He‘s the surrogate now.

RIVERS:  Listen...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Right, Lynn?

SWEET:  It is.  He‘s supposed to talk about it directly to—you know, to the...

MATTHEWS:  Well, we understand—we just got a word that he is talking on the tarmac down there.  The Reverend Wright doesn‘t speak for Obama, according to Obama right now.  We‘re going to get the SOT here, the sound on tape.  “Wright doesn‘t speak for the campaign, but he has the right to speak his own opinion.  The campaign is not coordinating with Wright.”

Well, we know that~!

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Senator!  Well, then we know you‘re not certifiable!  “Obama believes the American people understand that he has associates from his past who have different opinions from him.”  You‘re overestimating the charm you have over the American people.  They will associate you with the guy you go to church with.

(CROSSTALK)

BERNARD:  Absolutely.  And when we keep hearing—Reverend Rivers, I would suspect you would agree with this.  But when he keeps talking about black liberation theology, he is equating it and saying black liberation theology, which is what he preaches, is the same as the black church.

RIVERS:  Absolutely.

BERNARD:  A lot of people are just being introduced to the black church, and I think they‘re going to be scared.

RIVERS:  That‘s right.

MATTHEWS:  Last word, Reverend.  Your thoughts on...

RIVERS:  No, no.  Let me say something about that.  Hello?

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I hear you.

(LAUGHTER)

RIVERS:  Yes.  No, no.  See, the principal political beneficiaries of Reverend Wright have been John McCain and Hillary Clinton.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

RIVERS:  In fact, he has done so much damage that the people—and black America needs to think about this.  The people who have been primarily benefiting from the last 24 hours of rhetoric have been John McCain and Hillary Clinton, respectively.  And it is really unfortunate.  And I want to say again, there are voices like Bishop Charles Blake, with a 25,000-member church, who is supporting Senator Obama, who represents a completely different moral, theological and rhetorical tradition.  And so we need to know that Reverend Wright is not speaking for the black church, qua church.  It is simply false and erroneous for him to imply that.  We do not need him to defend us.

(LAUGHTER)

SWEET:  He‘s writing a book.  He said that, too.

MATTHEWS:  The book tour is coming.  Thank you to Reverend Eugene Rivers.  Sir, thank you for coming to us from Boston.  And Michelle Bernard, as always, Lynn Sweet, the great reporter on this man, Barack Obama.

Coming up: Should Barack Obama cut off his former pastor?  We‘ll think about that hard question when we‘re coming back.  More on this in the next segment.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  As we‘ve been discussing, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright reopened Obama‘s pastor problem today in a big way.  Here‘s Wright‘s response, the Reverend Wright‘s response, when asked today whether he‘s disappointed that Barack Obama has distanced himself from him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WRIGHT:  He didn‘t distance himself.  He had to distance himself because he‘s a politician from what the media was saying I had said which was anti-American.  He said I didn‘t offer any words of hope.  How would he know?  He never heard the rest of the sermon.  You never heard it.  I offered words of hope.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Despite the Barack strong lead in the polls, is Jeremiah Wright a problem for him?  Here to answer that question are radio talk show hosts Ed Schultz and Kevin James.  Ed, thank you.  Thank you, Kevin—both.

Let‘s take a look at some interesting polls.  This is to give you a sense of how strong potentially—potentially—Barack Obama is in this race if he doesn‘t let this thing kill him.  Sixty-three percent of Americans now say that Barack Obama understands the problems Americans face in their daily lives better than all the other candidates.  Only 60 percent say Clinton can do that, 50 percent say McCain can do that.  That‘s understanding our basic problems.

Sixty-two percent say Obama cares about the need of people—the needs of people like you—that means everybody -- 57 percent, Clinton‘s below him, and McCain‘s well below him.  And then you go, when asked each candidate shares your values—which candidate shares your values as an American, 51 percent say Obama, 47 percent say McCain, 46 percent say Clinton.  So he leads on values.

Among the three presidential candidates, John McCain is considered the most honest and trustworthy at 65.  Obama‘s right behind him at 60, Hillary‘s pulling up the back at 37, way behind in trustworthiness.  So on sharing our values, understanding our concerns, on being honest, all those things, he‘s highly competitive, if not in the lead, Ed Schultz.  And along comes this albatross right behind him, just riding up there ahead of him, right behind him, right back there.  And he sees him in his rearview mirror.  And that albatross is going to kill him because it brings into question, it seems to me, Ed—tell me if I‘m wrong—his Americanism...

ED SCHULTZ, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  No.

MATTHEWS:  ... his commitment to the country, and his basic sense of who he is.

SCHULTZ:  No.

MATTHEWS:  It brings all that into question.  go ahead.

SCHULTZ:  I...

MATTHEWS:  Deny it.  (INAUDIBLE) hear it.

SCHULTZ:  Chris, I do not believe that this is the albatross.  I don‘t think this is a tire around Barack Obama‘s neck. 

Look, you can‘t be an advocate of all the people saying, oh, we can only have freedom of speech in some portions of our society.  There‘s no doubt that Reverend Wright early on was a problem for Barack Obama.  He addressed it with a fabulous speech. 

But the campaign can‘t go out there and say, hey, we‘re going to control this pastor.  We‘re going to control who he talks to, where he speaks, when he does it.  And, only, by the way, he‘s speaking for us.

That is not the case.  Tom Daschle told me today, they‘re not out to control him.  He‘s going to do what he‘s going to do.

MATTHEWS:  Who‘s he? 

SCHULTZ:  Reverend Wright.  Reverend...

MATTHEWS:  Why aren‘t they—why don‘t ask him to go back to Chicago for a couple weeks? 

SCHULTZ:  Because he‘s going to—as president of the United States, he‘s going to represent all religions, all faiths, all people.  And how can you say, hey, you got to be quiet, but I‘m really for freedom of speech?

MATTHEWS:  OK, Kevin, your thoughts?  How is he helping or hurting? 

KEVIN JAMES, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  Oh, he‘s so hurting Barack Obama. 

Look, Barack Obama caused this problem himself, Chris.  Barack Obama should have gotten rid—should have separated himself from Jeremiah Wright back in February of ‘07.  When he announced and he disinvited him from the announcement proceedings, that‘s when he should have publicly separated from Jeremiah Wright.

And then, you know—and he went on the talk show tour.  I think, you know, he was on Keith Olbermann‘s show right before—the Friday night before he gave the speech in Philadelphia, and Barack Obama went on saying that he wasn‘t in church that day, and he wasn‘t in church that day, and he wasn‘t in church the other day. 

And then, over the weekend, he decided, you know what, I better give a speech.  He gives a speech in Philadelphia.  And you know what he told us in that speech?  He said, I can no more separate myself, I can no more disown Jeremiah Wright than I can my white grandmother. 

And he told us, Jeremiah Wright‘s in my life.  He‘s been in my life. 

He‘s going to stay in my life.  Get used to it. 

MATTHEWS:  What is...

JAMES:  And now the American people are getting used to it.  And Ed Schultz says that he‘s not a problem?  Then why doesn‘t he put him back on the campaign?  Why don‘t the two of them go campaigning together? 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

SCHULTZ:  He was never on the campaign.

JAMES:  And let‘s see what happens. 

SCHULTZ:  But he was never on the campaign.  He was never part of the campaign. 

(CROSSTALK)

JAMES:  He was. 

(CROSSTALK)

SCHULTZ:  He was never part of their planning.

(CROSSTALK)

JAMES:  He was one of the religious advisers. 

(CROSSTALK)

SCHULTZ:  This is being presented to the American people as if, hey, Jeremiah Wright is going to be on the stump.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  He was on his advisory committee.  That‘s right. 

(CROSSTALK)

JAMES:  He was.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about this, Ed.  If he—you don‘t think he‘s become basically the surrogate that the Republicans are going to use, that Hillary‘s going to use in responding.

He is the one that—it‘s not Ted Kennedy.  It‘s not Claire McCaskill out there.  It‘s not Chris Dodd.  All these people could be speaking for Barack Obama effectively today.  Instead, you know who‘s speaking for him at the National Press Club today?  Jeremiah Wright was. 

SCHULTZ:  Jeremiah Wright...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Because he will be all over the newspapers tomorrow. 

SCHULTZ:  He was invited to be there.  That wasn‘t a setup by the Obama camp:  Hey, Reverend, go talk to the national press.

JAMES:  He went to the NAACP last night in Detroit. 

SCHULTZ:  Well, what is he going to say?  No?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  He‘s traveling everywhere.  He‘s on the road show.

(CROSSTALK)

SCHULTZ:  ... amount of publicity.  You think the NAACP is going to say, hey, we better keep Reverend Wright away from us, you know?  Come on.   

(CROSSTALK)

JAMES:  He wouldn‘t be in the news without Barack Obama.

(CROSSTALK)

SCHULTZ:  He‘s an advocate for black churches in America.  There‘s no question about it. 

(CROSSTALK)

SCHULTZ:  Now, I will say—want to say this. 

Just moments ago, you played a sound bite of John McCain.  What low-road politics for John McCain to come out to the American people and try to connect Reverend Wright to Barack Obama.  I mean, that is low-rent.  And the American people are going to figure this out.  And another thing is, this is off the African-American...

(CROSSTALK)

JAMES:  Barack Obama connected him to Barack Obama.

MATTHEWS:  Kevin, I want to say, on your behalf, that Democrats, for years, have associated Republican presidents with Jerry—the late Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson with impunity.

JAMES:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  So, don‘t say this is the first time this has happened.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Because when these guys have a political, as well as religious message—go ahead, Kevin. 

(CROSSTALK)

JAMES:  Barack Obama attacks Jeremiah Wright to Barack Obama.  But for Barack Obama‘s 20-year attendance, we wouldn‘t know who Jeremiah Wright is. 

But for Barack Obama putting him on the forefront of the national stage with his speech, not disowning him there, not disowning him time after time after time, we knew, in the—you know, as you like to—you know, in the conservative radio talk show world, we knew that the Jeremiah Wright...

(LAUGHTER)

JAMES:  ... sermons were coming.  We knew they were coming.  And they

and we told you they were coming.  We knew Bill Ayers was coming.

And that—and it adds to Barack Obama‘s problems on judgment—on judgment. 

(CROSSTALK)

SCHULTZ:  Reverend Wright is a man of the cloth.  His job is to bring people to Jesus Christ.  And that is what he does.  He‘s going to tell it like it is. 

JAMES:  He needs to find another message.

SCHULTZ:  And when he talks about the United States, he‘s talking about the policies of the government.  That‘s what he‘s talking about. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I liked him today when I saw him.  But he‘s got an ego that puts Bill Clinton to shame. 

SCHULTZ:  Sure he does.  So what?  He‘s got a—he‘s the Reggie Jackson of religion.  There‘s no question about it.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I think he was thought he was pretty up in the God world there today. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, gentlemen, thank you.  I think we got a good argument here.  I think Schultz lost. 

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, Kevin James, thank you.

JAMES:  Good.

MATTHEWS:  Up next: the HARDBALL “Sideshow.”  That‘s our name for it. 

Well, here it comes.  The (INAUDIBLE) is playing. 

Wait until you see more of President Bush conducting a little number here.  You know what I think of this stuff. When the press sucks up to the president like this, I really like it. 

Yuck. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Every day in this segment, we ring you the sometimes offbeat news, the political side stories, if you will—OK, the campaign gossip.  And, as of tonight, as you saw, we have got a name for it, the HARDBALL “Sideshow.” 

And here‘s what‘s in the show tonight. 

This past weekend was the annual White House Correspondents Association dinner.  And George W. Bush played to the crowd by volunteering to conduct this number. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(MUSIC)

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I have no idea what to make of that. 

Anyway, it is one thing to gather for events like this in Washington.  It‘s another one to laugh and applaud and be charmed when the president puts on a little show.  It‘s harmless stuff, except that the people yucking it up in that scene are the people who are professionally committed to calling it when the people in power get it wrong. 

Is Republican Bill Kristol showing the Republicans‘ strategy for the next few months?  Here‘s what he writes in today‘s “The New York Times,” as one of their regular columnists—quote—“We see the liberal media failing to give Hillary Clinton the respect she deserves.  So, since we conservatives believe in giving credit where credit is due, it falls to us to praise Hillary.”

What is it that makes me doubt that Bill Kristol, the five-star general of Iraqi hawks, wants the Democrats, Hillary or Obama, to beat John McCain this fall?  Is he giving advice to the Democrats that is of use to the Democrats or to their November rivals? 

And now to Barack Obama.  He may be disaster when it comes to bowling, but the guy does definitely play good basketball.  There he is over the weekend playing three on three in Indiana, that mecca of basketball, Indiana.  He scored four baskets, including a left-handed three-pointer, and ultimately won 15-5.  In all fairness, one of his teammates was Alison Bales, who plays for the WNBA‘s Indiana Fever.  So, he may have had a little help.  And he used it.

And now it‘s time for the HARDBALL “Big Number” tonight.

It‘s hard to buy the Clinton campaign‘s argument that a prolonged Democratic contest actually helps the party, anyway, helps the Democrats‘ chance of recapturing the White House. 

But there is a glimmer of good news for all the Democrats who are worried right now.  And, again, it‘s just a glimmer.  According to today‘s “Washington Post,” how many new Democrats have been registered to vote just in the last seven primary contests?  Over one million new Democrats, over one million newly registered voters, which more than triples the surge in registrations before the 2004 primary. 

Republican registration has generally ebbed or stagnated, while one million new people have become Democrats.  That‘s tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

Up next:  Obama campaign chief strategist David Axelrod is coming here any minute now. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHARON EPPERSON, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Sharon Epperson with your CNBC market wrap. 

Stocks closing mixed as investors look ahead to tomorrow‘s Federal Reserve policy meeting—the Dow losing 20 points, the S&P 500 down one, the Nasdaq gaining one. 

Gas prices rose to about a penny a day last week, hitting a record $3.60 a gallon by today, according to the Energy Department and AAA.  Meantime, crude futures approached $120 a barrel, before settling at $118.75 in New York trading.

United has reportedly entered advanced talks with U.S. Airways, after tie-up talks with Continental abruptly ended yesterday. 

And Warren Buffett gets in on a sweet deal.  The billionaire investor teams up with candy seller Mars, Incorporated to buy chewing gum maker Wrigley‘s for about $23 billion in cash. 

That‘s it from CNBC, America‘s business channel—now back to MSNBC. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

We‘re going to talk right now—we‘re going to have David Axelrod coming here at any mine now to talk about the campaign he‘s running for Barack Obama. 

Joining us right now, as we await him, is Jill Zuckman of “The Chicago Tribune,” Ryan Lizza of “New Yorker” magazine, and Jonathan Capehart of “The Washington Post.”

Thank you all.

There‘s Jonathan there.

JONATHAN CAPEHART, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Hey, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  I want to ask you all to do a quick run-through for a few minutes now.

It seems to me the way we keep scoring elections is who wins, right? 

Fair enough.  We have got an election coming up in North Carolina next

Tuesday, as well as a much trickier one in Indiana.  Let‘s assume Barack

Obama wins by eight or 10 points in North Carolina next Tuesday, but loses

by three or four points in Indiana. 

Is that going to be evidence that this Jeremiah Wright problem is wearing and tearing town the otherwise upwardly mobile campaign of Barack Obama, Jonathan?

CAPEHART:  I think so, Chris.  He‘s already ahead in the polls—

Senator Obama is already ahead in the polls in North Carolina.  And Indiana has been considered the one state that‘s a fair fight. 

And since the demographics of Indiana sort of not mirror, but are very similar to Pennsylvania and also Ohio...

MATTHEWS:  Except they‘re younger.  They‘re younger.

CAPEHART:  Yes, younger, but, I mean, still—younger, but still maybe the same racial, ethnic demographic. 

It‘s not clear if he loses, what did you say, eight points, Chris? 

MATTHEWS:  No. I‘m saying wins the other one by eight to 10, but the other one by three or four.

CAPEHART:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Indiana by three or four.

CAPEHART:  Then I think this race keeps going. 

RYAN LIZZA, “THE NEW YORKER”:  We have no idea what‘s going to cause Barack Obama to lose, if he loses Indiana.  We can‘t sit here today and tell that.  This story could fade away.  I mean, it‘s been wall to wall coverage today.  It could gone by tomorrow.  Things move fast in this campaign.

MATTHEWS:  This guy‘s walking around with a bass drum...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... banging the drum.  He‘s gone through Detroit, what, Dallas. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  He‘s now coming to Washington.  He‘s calling—the National Press Club has been re-awoken for this occasion, OK?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  This guy—I mean, I don‘t know who is—I don‘t know any reporter in the National Press Club, but I got to tell you, there were a lot of people there and a lot of cameras. 

(CROSSTALK)

LIZZA:  There‘s also—there‘s also an opportunity here for Barack Obama to just finally declare, look, this guy has his own views.  I have my own views.  And the American people are not stupid enough to confuse the two.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I think he‘s become his negative surrogate.  I believe the Republican Party and the Hillary campaign will use him to demonstrate the weakness of Barack Obama, his unelectability in December—in November.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Jill?

JILL ZUCKMAN, CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, “THE CHICAGO

TRIBUNE”:  But, today, Senator Obama referred to him as “my former pastor.”

And it‘s not because Senator Obama left his church.  It‘s because the pastor retired.  But you see him putting more distance, trying to really separate himself.  And I think that the pastor, Pastor Wright, has given him permission to say anything about him at this point, to do whatever he needs to do to get away from him. 

LIZZA:  No, but there should be a principle in these cases in this campaign. 

There‘s no guilt by association.  This guy has one set of views.  Obama has another set of views.  If the views match up, then it‘s fair game.  But the guy‘s been in politics since the mid-90s.  He has a record in the state Senate in Illinois.  He has a record in the U.S. Senate.  He‘s laid out an agenda as a presidential candidate. 

Where does his—where do his views match up with Jeremiah Wright‘s? 

(CROSSTALK)

LIZZA:  And why, as journalists, are we confusing the two?  It seems to me totally unfair that this guy‘s getting smeared with the views of someone just because he‘s his former pastor. 

(CROSSTALK)

CAPEHART:  Chris, Ryan is right in that regard.  These are words that Reverend Wright has said.  Reverend Wright has to be held accountable for them.

And Barack Obama has done, I think, as best he can, with the speech in Philadelphia last month, to, you know, put a lot of daylight between him and his former pastor.

But we—but the reason why we‘re talking about this is because Reverend Wright was his pastor for 20 years.  He baptized his children and married him to Michelle. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Here‘s...

CAPEHART:  That‘s why this is a big deal.

MATTHEWS:  Let me give you the problem, a way of putting it in perhaps literary terms.  It‘s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. 

Just a minute.  Who was the bad guy?  Dr. Jekyll was the good guy. 

Mr. Hyde was the bad guy, right?

LIZZA:  I will trust you on that.  I don‘t...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I think so.

So, every time you have a problem with Barack, because you don‘t really know him and he seems a little foreign to you, you think of—you think of him as both these guys.  They‘re different faces of the same guy. 

Jeremiah Wright, to a lot of people, is Barack Obama.  They have become the same Chicago character running for president. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  One is the good doctor.  The other one is the monster that shows up at night. 

LIZZA:  Look, I think there‘s a danger of that happening.

But, as a journalist—or, as journalists, I think it‘s our responsibility to make it clear. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK, carve it apart.  Separate the two.  Try. 

(CROSSTALK)

LIZZA:  This guy went to a church.  This guy is the pastor of that church.  Now one of those guys is running for president and has laid out a vision that is radically different than anything his left-wing pastor had to say. 

Yes, it tells you about something about who he is.  It tells you about

something about the community he came from.  But it doesn‘t tell you everything.  And nobody should confuse...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Do you think it might be hurting a good man like Mitt Romney and his family, and good members of the LDS church, that they‘re being embarrassed by this breakaway group down there in Texas in the last couple weeks?  You don‘t think that story hurts Mitt Romney‘s—Mitt Romney‘s chances of being on the ticket? 

LIZZA:  Absolutely.  I‘m sure it—I‘m sure it does.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, it does. 

So, I‘m saying, these associations, fair or unfair...

ZUCKMAN:  Right. 

LIZZA:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  ... birds of a feather.  It‘s the way people think.

ZUCKMAN:  I think, Ryan, you‘re being a little high minded here, because this is still politics and his opponents are going to use this against him to raise questions in the minds of people who are undecided, on the fence, feel like they don‘t know enough. 

MATTHEWS:  “God Damn America,” that‘s one of the greatest quotes in history.  This is going in the Bartlett‘s. 

LIZZA:  If Barack Obama had said it, he would be out of this race.  I don‘t remember him saying.  A guy who was his—

MATTHEWS:  Do you think if you miss church one Sunday, and you‘re fairly good at going to church, and while you were one that Sunday, you heard the priest or the minister, or the rabbi said, God Damn America, you wouldn‘t have heard about that by Monday or Tuesday?  Do you really believe he didn‘t hear about this?  Come on, Ryan, you‘re a reporter.  Ryan, you think he didn‘t know about this? 

LIZZA:  I think he knew his pastor was a left winger.  Basically, look at the totality of what‘s Wright‘s saying.  He‘s a doctrinaire left winger.  You find the views he has all the time on the far left, right? 

MATTHEWS:  If you went to a left-wing church—let me just ask you this: for years, the Democratic candidates for president and Democratic politicians have been lambasting—is that the way you pronounce it—lambasting Republicans for hanging out with the late Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson and their ilk.  Now they‘re going off this guy Hagee, Pastor Hagee, who doesn‘t like Catholics down in Texas.  This is the way politics is played.  You get the guy‘s associates. 

LIZZA:  I‘m not saying that this is not the way politics plays.  I‘m just trying to draw a distinction and be fair to the Obama campaign and fair to Wright and distinguish between a candidate‘s views and his pastor‘s views.  I‘m not denying that the politics of this are terrible for Obama.  Finally on the politics—

MATTHEWS:  We‘re on the same side.  Whatever topic you were on.  This is HARDBALL.  We talk politics, Ryan.  Are you talking about Hillary—

Didn‘t you just write a piece?  

LIZZA:  I have a piece in this week‘s “New Yorker” about Bill Clinton. 

MATTHEWS:  What does it say? 

LIZZA:  You want to read—

MATTHEWS:  I want you to say it out loud. 

LIZZA:  There was one quote in there about one Clinton campaign adviser saying this campaign enraged Bill and that he doesn‘t like Obama, yes. 

MATTHEWS:  He doesn‘t like him.  How much doesn‘t he like him? 

LIZZA:  I didn‘t ask the person, but I would say it‘s up there.  The point of the piece, what‘s been missed, the reason he doesn‘t like him is because Obama‘s been attacking his record as president.  I think that‘s one of the exchanges that‘s really gotten missed. 

MATTHEWS:  It wouldn‘t be because he might replace him as the leader of the Democratic party?  That wouldn‘t be it?  Thank you, Jill Zuckman.  Thank you, Ryan.  You‘re one of the hot shots of this business of journalism.  Jonathan, you intellectual man, you curiously subtle—

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  Jill in Chicago, and we were talking before about the mail she gets.  You are one of the smartest people around. 

Up next, Obama‘s chief campaign strategist, David Axelrod, is coming. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Here to respond to the Reverend Jeremiah Wright speech in Washington this morning, Obama chief campaign strategist David Axelrod.  David, thank you for coming on.  We‘re going to look—let‘s listen right now to what your candidate, Senator Obama, said just minutes ago on the tarmac down in Wilmington, North Carolina. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  I have said before, I will repeat again, that what—some of the comments that Reverend Wright have made offend me, and I understand why they‘ve offended the American people.  He does not speak for me.  He does not speak for the campaign. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  David, what do you make of the decision by the Reverend Jeremiah Wright to go on this campaign tour through the NAACP meeting last night in Detroit, coming to Washington with this full dressed performance before the National Press Club? 

DAVID AXELROD, OBAMA CAMPAIGN CHIEF STRATEGIST:  Well, I must say, it wouldn‘t be my first choice.  And, you know, I think Reverend Wright felt that he had been done a disservice in the process, and he decided to go public and he did.  And, frankly, the news media was very eager to accommodate that.  He had three hours on the cable stations last night, full coverage this morning and so on.  So he‘s gotten himself quite a platform. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, the thing is that when you understand what‘s been going on here, it seems to me harder to understand.  How come your candidate, Barack Obama, was so careful and sensitive in the way he severed himself from the remarks, the sermons of Reverend Wright, but never dissed him or hurt him personally?  He made very careful to stay with him as a human being, as a friend. 

And, yet, in payment for that, the Reverend Wright goes on this book tour, basically, to basically put it back in his face. 

AXELROD:  I can‘t speak to Reverend Wright‘s motivations or why he‘s out here now.  Obviously, you know, it isn‘t helpful, and I don‘t think it necessarily meant to be helpful.  I don‘t think it‘s about Obama.  I think Reverend Wright is out there speaking for Reverend Wright.  And, you know, that‘s his prerogative.  It‘s unfortunate from our prospective, because it‘s a needless distraction from the things I think people really do care about. 

This is a hugely important election.  You and I have had many conversations about it.  We‘ve got a lot of problems in this country.  These are the problems people are feeling every day in their lives.  That‘s what they want the presidential discussion to be about, and, you know, to have hours and ours spent on the fulminations of one guy -- 

MATTHEWS:  I agree.  Let‘s balance it out.  I‘m looking at the polls right now, David, and you‘re looking at them, and they‘re very favorable for Barack Obama.  He leads in who‘s going to look at for you?  Regular people.  Who cares about the problems you have?  Regular people.  Who‘s honest?  He‘s honest.  All the good polling for a Democrat is there. 

He is in good shape vis-a-vis Hillary, vis-a-vis John McCain.  Yet, this tears at it, in this sense, it seems to me: it gives a permission slip to not the people who are racist, but people who are concerns that are legitimate.  They go, wait a minute, I don‘t have to think anymore.  I‘m going to listen to Jeremiah Wright.  He‘s going it to drive me away from Barack.  I don‘t have to think anymore.  It‘s easy for me now. 

AXELROD:  You know, Chris, I got to tell you that this whole race was predicated on the notion that the American people were paying attention and really interested in bringing about change in this country in a fundamental way, and that they would give us a good hearing.  Remember, seven months ago, a lot of pundits—I won‘t mention any names—were writing us off in this race and we‘re in much different position than they‘d expect we would be now, partly because—mainly because the American people were listening and paying attention. 

And I think the American people are going to separate out the views of Jeremiah Wright from the views and the record of Barack Obama, which, as Ryan Lizza was pointing out earlier, are quite different.  Barack Obama‘s been a bridge builder all his life.  He‘s brought people together to get health care for people, tax relief for low income workers.  He‘s been a bridge between parties, between religions, between racial and ethnic groups.  That‘s been the history of him. 

I don‘t think that Jeremiah Wright‘s remarks match up with that in any way.  So I think the American people are going to look at Barack Obama, they‘re going to vote on the basis of who he is, what he‘s done, where he wants to lead this country.  We continue to put our faith in the American people. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you‘ve think your candidate is going to speak out more in the days ahead, to separate his view, which we know is a unifying view, from a more militant view that you hear from—more almost liberation theology, what we‘re hearing from the Reverend Wright.  It doesn‘t seem to be the political philosophy of Barack Obama.  Are we going to see that distinction drawn by your candidate? 

AXELROD:  Well, I mean, I think where appropriate, he‘ll do that.  I don‘t think we‘re going to spend the next week talking about Jeremiah Wright.  Not at a time when people are paying four dollars a gallon for gas, and being offered, by the way, phony solutions by some of the other candidates to that problem.  Not while we—they‘re dealing with the housing crisis, job loss and all the pressures people are facing.  We would really be doing a disservice to the people of Indiana, North Carolina and this country if we allow ourselves to get drawn into this side show for the next week.  We‘re not going to let that happen. 

MATTHEWS:  What is Barack Obama going to do for the working family in Indiana or North Carolina that Hillary Clinton or John McCain won‘t do? 

AXELROD:  I can answer that it two ways.  The first thing he‘ll do, and he talked about this months and months and months ago, is he‘ll reform our tax code and give a tax cut to people earning 75,000 dollars a year or less.  We‘ve got this distorted tax code, 10,000 pages riven with loopholes for big corporations and the well connected, while working people need money in their pocket.  That‘s why we‘re facing this economic situation we are, because people don‘t have money to spend.  That‘s the first thing he‘ll do.

His energy program would create five million jobs, and we need jobs badly in this country.  A lot of those jobs will be created in communities that have been hard hit by the changes in our economy.  He‘ll invest in our infrastructure, which badly needs it.  We know that.  That‘s one of the reasons why this diversion from the Federal Highway Trust Fund that Senator McCain and Clinton have proposed makes no sense. 

So he‘ll invest in our infrastructure; that will create jobs.  He‘ll help kids with their student loans; huge problem now, especially with the credit crunch.  We‘ve got to get the middle men out, the banks and the middle men out of that, and get kids the help they need, in exchange for some service to the country. 

Obviously, he‘ll reform our health care system, so everyone who needs health care can get health care, quality health care at a price they can afford. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s come back in a moment.  We‘ll have a couple more minutes with David Axelrod to talk about the current crisis in the campaign, the noise that‘s being made by Jeremiah Wright, also about the main thrust of the campaign as he‘s been addressing it.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back.  We‘ve got Obama chief strategist, David Axelrod.  Let me ask you—It seems to me the biggest problem with the Reverend Wright is it could cut into your candidate‘s greatest strength, which is this sense that we could almost rejoin the world.  The United States won‘t be the bad guy in the world from many prospective.  We‘ll be able to lead the world again and not be out there by ourselves again.  What he does is sort of put a bad look to that big world perspective, it seems to me. 

AXELROD:  Well, that‘s true if you buy into your—I heard your Jeckyl and Hyde analogy earlier.  Jeckyl and Hyde were one person.  Jeremiah Wright is distinctly not Barack Obama.  Barack Obama has a different world view.  He comes from a different generation.  He looks at things differently.  That‘s a point that he made in his speech, Chris.  He doesn‘t have the same perspective as Reverend Wright, who was born at a different time, in a different era, has obviously a great deal of anger about the injustices he saw in Jim Crow years and so on. 

Obama has a much different view.  He‘s lived around the world.  He understands the world.  It‘s one of the reasons he opposed the Iraq war.  He had a very clear sense of where that would lead.  I think—the day he got elected, I think it would make a huge difference in the world, about the way the world looked at us and the way America related to the world and a very positive one. 

MATTHEWS:  Is it possible for Barack Obama to continue running for president without displaying any anger, against the administration, against Halliburton, against the oil companies, against the people who have benefited from this administration‘s policy?  Can he show an absence of passion? 

AXELROD:  Chris, I know you got this big desk job so you can‘t get out with us because you got to be there for HARDBALL.  You ought to come out with us and see him speak.  I think he‘s expressing that anger and that indignation all the time.  This whole race is predicated on the need to bush back on the special interests who have basically dominated decision making in Washington for the last 30 years, which is why we don‘t have an energy policy and we‘re paying four dollars a gallon.  It‘s why we don‘t have a universal health system in this country.  That‘s what this campaign is all about.  It‘s what‘s driving him and it‘s, I think, what‘s driving the people who support him. 

MATTHEWS:  David Axelrod, thank you. 

AXELROD:  Come on out with us. 

MATTHEWS:  I would like to.  Get me some travel money, will you.  I‘ll be there with you.  Join us again tomorrow at 5:00 and 7:00 p.m. Eastern for more HARDBALL.  Now, it‘s time for “RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE” with David Gregory.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

END   

www.voxant.com) ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and Voxant, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.>

Watch Hardball each weeknight at 5 & 7 p.m. ET

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,